Pizza can be a scary subject, but one that I am not easily shaken from.
For this week's challenge I felt the need to be slightly scientific in choosing the correct opponents. I randomly asked strangers for their ideas on a perfect Dallas pizza.. I polled about 40 people from the supermarket, a few bars and even in passing downtown. The list was impressive and I had been to most of the named.
The actual scores from my bit of slight science is not important. The big names came up repeatedly: Campisi's, Louie's, Grimaldi's, Pastazio's, Cavalli, Coal Vine's and a few others including one Pizza Hut.
And, you know, Campisi's to me is wonderful. Everything a pizza should be. But I had to dismiss it from the competition straight away.
Years ago I was shot in the head in front of the original Egyptian location on Mockingbird. I was promised free dinner for life, although that promise was probably buried with Joseph the patriarch of the family in 1990. But I still enjoy a few slices now and again.
My second dismissal is Louie's. Many years ago Louie's was a cool place to hang out. Hard drinkers from the media, including certain gin-blossomed sports writers, bled ink and spun yarns while sitting at this Henderson Avenue dive. This old location has now been beaten by city smoking ordinances, and been goofed on by the Food Network to the point it is difficult to cross the threshold. Besides, the pizza really isn't all that good.
So today we throw seemingly comparable pizzas into battle. Both are thin brick oven pizzas with the reputation of fine ingredients and a good following: Grimaldi's and Coal Vines.
I actually thought it would be clever to use an expired Grimaldi's coupon I had floating around my back seat to check for any corporate sense of humor. The waitperson of the day was Allison, who sped through the menu and the coupon riff with flying colors. She suggested I might try a pie with no more than three ingredients to keep the pizza intact and crisp. She offered that their Italian sausage was particularly good and I might try some mushrooms as well.
When building a Grimaldi's pizza, they start with a layer of thin slices of fresh mozzarella--they say from grass fed cows. Dollops of sauce are added, along with a generous supply of ingredients.
The sausage was large and chunky with a slight bite to it. The mushrooms were fresh slices and plentiful. The sauce, slightly sweet and needed mending with the addition of the obligatory red pepper flakes. I found flecks of dried Italian seasonings and a smattering of fresh basil. Nice touch.
But the crust is the foundation of any great pizza, and Grimaldi's was thin yet substantial enough to hold tight to its toppings. The crust was finished with a buttery olive oil that made every bite ring out.
Coal Vines has a location in Uptown and one in Southlake. It's a more upscale operation than that of Grimaldi's--and Coal Vines' roots are more interesting, as it was started by an ex-cop from New York. A guy I wouldn't want to piss off.
The atmosphere is more of a wine bar, and the wine selection is nice. It is also a substantially more expensive pizza.
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The basic large pie at Grimaldi's is about what the basic small version of the same is at Coal Vines (about fifteen dollars). The crust is baked quickly in the Coal Vines special brick oven, five minutes to be precise. The pizza is extremely thin with a crisp and bubbled outer crust. However, the center of the pie suffers a bit with an over-abundance of sauce.
The toppings I chose were the sausage and pepper with red sauce. Sarah Beth, my bartender, suggested I might try the Bolognese or white pizza as they held up much better with the Coal Vine crust. But I wanted something similar to the other competition order.
I will commend the sauce at Coal Vines for being less sweet and the combination pretty incredible. But the pizza simply did not hold up as well. Both are excellent product, but a sagging interior crust is simply tough to overcome.
Victory to Grimaldi's.